Kai Bird

Speech Topics

Kai Bird grew up in Jerusalem, Beirut, Cairo and Saudi Arabia. As a journalist he covered the Iranian revolution, Egypt, Yemen and Arabia. He is currently writing a Middle East memoir that explains why the Arab-Israeli conflict lies at the heart of our post 9/11 conundrum.

Drawing on his Pulitzer-Prize winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kai Bird analyzes our love affair with the atomic bomb. He shows how America’s embracement of this Promethean weapon has spurred others—from Tel Aviv to Islamabad—to build their own bombs. He reminds us that fifty years ago Oppenheimer warned us that atomic bombs are “cheap” and that there is no defense against suitcase bombs.

America has always had an “Establishment”—a mix of lawyers, corporate CEOs, lobbyists and pundits—who forge the parameters of policy-making in Washington. John J. McCloy, a powerful corporate lawyer and presidential advisor, was known as the “chairman of the Establishment” for much of the Cold War. McCloy’s definitive biographer, Kai Bird, explains how the Establishment has evolved into the 21st century.


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Pulitzer prize winner Kai Bird’s latest book is The Good Spy, a compelling portrait of the remarkable life and death of one of the most important operatives in CIA history – a man who, had he lived, might have helped heal the rift between Arabs and the West.

Kai Bird’s last book, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, was released by Scribner on April 20, 2010. This book is a meld of personal memoir and history, fusing his early life in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt with an intimate account of the American experience in the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli tragedy. It was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in the category of Autobiography. It was also a Finalist for the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Kai Bird is the co-author with Martin J. Sherwin of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005), which also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and the Duff Cooper Prize for History in London. He is the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, the German Marshall Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study Center, Bellagio, Italy and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. He is a member of the Society of American Historians and a contributing editor of The Nation.


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